TLG talks to British Virgin Islands Film Commissioner, Clive McCoy
The British Virgin Islands may seem to many like a fantastic holiday destination, but behind the sunny skies and idyllic beaches lies a sophisticated infrastructure to assist all types of productions in filming on location. We spoke to Film Commissioner Clive McCoy to get the inside scoop on BVI’s film industry and what it has to offer.
I worked in tourism as a Sales Representative on the West Coast and in the Southeast region of the United States for 10 years. The position for the Film Commissioner opened and I applied. I wanted to relocate to the British Virgin Islands to contribute to the overall development of the territory. I never envisioned becoming a Film Commissioner so there has been a learning curve for me with regards to the industry and how we can best use film in the BVI. Film has great potential and I will be doing my best to get the most return possible out of the position especially as it relates to tourism. If I can do that and simultaneously use projects that come to the BVI to create employment opportunities for locals, then I will be satisfied.
What does this role involve exactly?
The role of the BVI Film Commissioner is to encourage/attract, and help facilitate production companies and ad agencies to film in the British Virgin Islands. The Film Commission is directly affiliated with the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, and as Film Commissioner, I am also responsible for ensuring that the best locations are selected for projects to accurately identify and showcase the BVI in a way that captures the destination in a way that represents our brand. I am also responsible for issuing film permits, which are mandatory for all projects and productions that take place in the territory. The goal is to take filmmaking and video production to a higher level in the BVI.
How long have you been doing it and what do you enjoy most the job?
I became the Film Commissioner in December 2014, and what I enjoy most about the position is the opportunity to do something that explores an infinite number of possibilities. When we start to see productions entering the BVI because of our sales and marketing efforts, I can rest easy at night knowing that I played a role in contributing to something good.
What can you tell me about BVI as a filming destination?
The BVI as a filming destination has a lot potential with regards to the variety of locations where shoots can take place. We have several types of beaches, hidden coves, ruins, and our breathtaking topography. We also have locations that are unique to the BVI like the Baths and Coppermine in Virgin Gorda. Locations however are not just the general topography of the islands; but the culture, the people, the history and the overall lifestyle. All these elements exist in the BVI and can be easily translated on camera.
I have noticed that crews feel the positive energy when shooting in the BVI and it is always satisfying when I see that energy translated in the finished piece. Another wonderful aspect of the BVI is the close proximity of our 60 islands and cays. Within minutes a crew can go from an ‘island city’ location to an uninhabited sandy spit in the middle of the ocean. I believe that we have not begun to tap into the full potential that we have to offer, but it will happen. The BVI has been welcoming projects to our shores for decades so we have experienced location management companies in the country that have a wealth of experience.
Are there any particular tips that you would like to share about filming in your region?
I advise production companies to contact us at least 10 days prior to their arrival in the BVI so we can make sure all permits are efficiently processed. Additionally, I recommend traveling with your swimwear. No one should come to the BVI and not take several dips in the ocean.
What locations are most commonly used by film and TV crews when they come and film in BVI?
Most productions film around our beaches and our private islands. We are renowned for the colour and clarity of our water. Our islands are literally minutes apart from each other by boat. This is a bonus for some film crews as they’re able to capture a variety of shots in a short amount of time! The Baths in Virgin Gorda are one of the most popular places to film. The landmark is comprised of a stunning collection of boulders on the beach. We receive many requests for this location, which is also a national park. Our National Parks Trust makes the application process as seamless as possible and do their best to facilitate projects.
What are the more unusual locations that BVI has to offer that our readers would not necessarily associate with the region?
The Baths and the boulders scattered on Virgin Gorda are very unusual, although we have some very eclectic locations like the Conch Shell Mounds on Anegada which date back hundreds of years, and the Shell Museum on Tortola. We also have lemurs on Necker Island which are native to Madagascar. Maybe we could double for a scene in Madagascar one day. We also have several private islands that are very accommodating for film productions and sandbars like Sandy Spit.
The British Virgin Islands can double for almost any Caribbean or subtropical country. The wonderful thing about the BVI is approximately half of the total population (30,000) are from other places in the world. Finding a person with an authentic Jamaican accent or even a South African accent is easier than people may think. I once had another Film Commissioner tell me we could double for a scene in New York. He saw a mobile clothing store and said that could be used to double for the Big Apple! The bus is hot pink and if you saw it you would not think something like that exists in the BVI. We have the classic red London phone booths scattered around the islands as well so we can double for London. I think it is possible and then when the shot is finished, the cast and crew can cool off with a painkiller (the official cocktail of the BVI) and enjoy the crystal clear water.
What are the advantages of filming in BVI?
The permitting process is quick and the islanders are very accommodating. All of the government departments that we work with go above and beyond to make sure that production companies are able to capture the footage, or photos they desire. From the police to the fire department, they all step in when it comes to filming in the BVI. A special mention must be made to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour. They have delivered when situations appeared to be impossible.
What productions have used BVI locations in the past five years?
One notable production was a commercial for Johnnie Walker Blue Label entitled The Gentleman’s Wager which starred Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini, and was produced by RSA Films. We also had the music video for Little Big Town’s Pain Killer, produced by Ruckus Films, and a popular reality television show called Below Deck.
How many ‘location shoot days’ did BVI record for 2015?
In 2015 the BVI recorded 235 location shoot days.
What financial or non-financial incentives does BVI have or offer to attract foreign productions to come film at BVI locations if any?
The British Virgin Islands understands the impact of film tourism. One in five people that choose a destination for vacation do so based on something they saw on television or other mediums like books and the internet. Knowing this, we do what we can to assist projects that will be of significant value from a tourism perspective. Some of the things that we do for projects usually help production companies to save significant amounts of money.
The most difficult location assignment that I had was for a television show shot this year. They wanted to launch some fireworks on a particular island. It seems simple enough but coordinating the government offices that needed to approve the shoot, along with finding a pyro-technician in one of the neighboring countries was challenging. The good news is that we did it! It made me sweat a little that week, but we made it happen.
What are the most film-crew-friendly hotels in your region and where is your favourite wrap party venue?
All of our hotels work very well with all productions. They understand that they have to be a little more hands-on because of equipment and the needs of cast and crew, but generally the same exceptional service that the BVI is known for translates to film. People in the BVI are very friendly and accommodating, and relish the opportunity to help. My favorite wrap party venue so far has been Peg Legs restaurant on Nanny Cay, but I have a list of suggested party places that I am willing to share at any time. I like to have a feel for the cast and crew to see how much rum and sand needs to be available.
What would you recommend crew and cast do to have fun and relax on down days or pre / post shoot?
The funny thing about productions that come to the BVI is that they seem to be having fun all the time. When the make-up artist jumps off the boat because the water is so inviting, you know that the crew is enjoying themselves. With that being said, I always recommend going to see another island. The islands are so close that you can commute between them in minutes. Most of the time I recommend the island of Anegada because it is the only island that is approximately an hour away and not may shoots go there due to the logistics. It is the only island in the BVI that is of coral formation and it boasts 13 miles of uninterrupted beach. It looks like the ideal backdrop for a beverage commercial and it is reputed to have the best lobster in the entire Caribbean. I’ve not heard one complaint about a day off spent on Anegada.
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